Council to consider measures to encourage higher-speed Internet service

by: FILE PHOTO - Google Fiber may be coming to a Portland metro-area city near you.The future of Lake Oswego is bright, according to this week’s City Council agenda.

On Tuesday, the council will consider whether it is ready to prepare “fiberhoods,” neighborhoods that connect into Google’s growing fiber optic network for breakneck Internet accessibility. That means Internet speeds up to 100 times faster than current broadband, a development that is being compared to the jump from dial-up speeds to broadband.

Inclusion in the Google Fiber program is widely regarded as quite the get for any city. More than 1,100 U.S. cities responded to Google’s initial call for applications in 2010, and while Kansas City, Kansas, is the only municipality in the world that can currently boast having the fiber-to-premises service, Google announced in February that the Portland metro area was one of 10 regions shortlisted for the second phase of Google Fiber.

The other cities also being considered for the service are San Jose, California; Salt Lake City and Provo, Utah; Phoenix, Arizona; San Antonio, Texas; Nashville, Tennessee; Atlanta, Georgia; Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina.

In addition, Google has already agreed to build out fiber networks in Kansas City, Missouri; Austin, Texas; and Provo, Utah.

Google has long had a penchant for the exclusive soft-launch — for example, securing a Gmail account prior to 2007 required an invite. So there was a sense of the ceremonial when Google held a press conference with Portland Mayor Charlie Hales on Feb. 19, extending a tentative invitation to the cities of Portland, Beaverton, Gresham, Hillsboro, Tigard and Lake Oswego: 1-gigabyte-a-second Internet speeds could be theirs, provided they met certain criteria.

Although this speed is arguably overkill, it gives a notable advantage, particularly to small businesses looking to stay ahead of the curve as more cities consider opting into the growing Google Fiber network.

Google is asking each city to demonstrate that it has the infrastructure in place to support the Fiber program. For Kansas City, that has meant fast-tracking Google's permit applications, and granting Google right-of-way easements in public streets and via utility poles.

Participating cities were given until May 1 to complete a checklist issued by Google, which requires cities to provide detailed information about existing infrastructure, guarantee certain access to existing utilities and promise "efficient and predictable permit and construction processes" were in place. According to Jordan Wheeler, assistant to the city manager, Lake Oswego met the deadline.

In its existing agreement with Kansas City, Google agreed to bear all costs associated with the project, as well as operating costs of the network. In return, the city agreed not to charge Google for access to city assets and infrastructure.

Local representatives have already laid the groundwork for such arrangements. During the last Legislative session, Representatives Julie Parrish, R-West Linn, and Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, introduced House Bill 4095 to require the Oregon Department of Transportation to inform Internet service providers of any highway projects which involve breaking ground where new Internet cables might be installed. ODOT director Matthew Garrett reached out to Parrish and Richardson and agreed to implement the plan before it could even head to a vote.

The prospect of Google Fiber has widespread economic appeal and has attracted enthusiasm even outside local municipalities: TriMet recently stepped up to offer logistical support for the project, issuing a memo explaining that its "existing conduit runs and associated facilities could serve as a plug and play environment for a Google Fiber ring (or backbone) and hut sites."

Each hut site serves about 20,000 users.

TriMet detailed its 80-mile network of conduits, which run underneath the MAX light rail.

"We currently house fiber for Intel (AbovNet), PSU/OHSU, KGW and others," the memo read. "The new Willamette River Transit Bridge has been built with many spare conduits running in a concrete soffit along its northern edge."

Lake Oswego appears fully onboard: The city is currently working on license agreements for fiber hut placements, and will urge the council to adopt a Fiber to the Home and Network Huts License Agreement during its Tuesday meeting.

The council appears amenable to the plan. In February, Mayor Kent Studebaker outlined high-speed Internet's importance as a tool for economic development.

"Our city is ideally suited for this," he said. "Many of our residents are executives, professionals and knowledge workers."

Although other cities in the region are clamoring for Google Fiber to reinvigorate the Silicon Forest, Studebaker emphasized Google Fiber's role in attracting "more young families" to Lake Oswego.

"Our outstanding school system will jump on the bandwidth and use it in ways we can't even imagine today," Studebaker said.

Google has not announced any proposed pricing structure, but in Kansas City, basic monthly service is $70, with TV/Internet packages available for $120 per month.

In these hubs, consumers also have the option of subscribing to free Internet service at what is considered current average broadband speed — after paying a $300 construction fee. That service is guaranteed for at least seven years.

If approved, service would likely be provided starting in 2015, in competition with current service providers.

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